On 19th April, police used tear gas to disperse a protest of opposition and civil society, gathering hundreds of people in front of the National Assembly, while a massive deployment of security officers in Dakar aimed to prevent people from gathering. The protest against changes in the Electoral Code and the Constitution, which was due to be debated in the National Assembly that day, was previously banned by prefect of Dakar, using several justifications such as the blanket ban on protests in the city center and threats to the public order.
Protests against changes in the Electoral Code and the Constitution
On 19th April, police used tear gas to disperse an opposition protest that had gathered hundreds of people in front of the National Assembly, while a massive deployment of security officers in Dakar aimed to prevent people from gathering. Protesters had mobilsed against changes in the Electoral Code and the Constitution, due to be debated in the National Assembly that day, even though the actions had previously been banned by the prefect of Dakar. According to media reports, some protesters erected barricades and threw stones at a police car, while police arrested dozens of protesters. Among those arrested were the opposition leaders Idrissa Seck of Rewmi, Malick Gakou of Grand Parti, and Thierno Bocoum, president of the Agir Party, along with members of civil society, including rapper Kilifa of the civic movement Y en marre.
The amendments to the Electoral Code would require presidential candidates to acquire signatures from one percent of registered voters in at least seven regions. Members of the opposition view such a move as an attempt to silence opponents, while President Sall's supporters say the amendments will simplify the presidential elections. Presidential elections are due to take place on 24th February 2019. The bill was passed despite the opposition boycott of the the vote.
Prior to the planned anti-government protests, Francois Patuel of Amnesty International stated:
“Peaceful opposition protests in Senegal have previously been arbitrarily banned and met with unnecessary, excessive force by the police. The authorities must remember that peaceful protest and freedom of expression are human rights that must be respected”.
Sénégal : la grève des étudiants se poursuit https://t.co/hROuCij51Z— Jeune Afrique (@jeune_afrique) 21 mei 2018
Student protests: security forces use live ammunition, killing one student
On 15th May 2018, security forces used live ammunition in clashes with students during a protest at the University Gaston Berger (UGB) in Saint-Louis, killing one student, Mouhamadou Fallou Sene, and injuring several others. The students planned a protest action against the delay in the payment of scholarships. During the action, students would not pay for items in university restaurants for 48 hours, which led the university administration to call in security forces to prevent the protest action. Following the death of 25-year old Mouhamadou Fallou Sene, clashes between students and security forces occurred in several universities in the country, and students of public universities went on a strike, demanding justice for the killing and calling for the resignation of several ministers.
Weeks earlier, police officers used tear gas and physical force to disperse a student protest at Macky Sy High School in Thiès, during which one student was injured, according to the Media Foundation for West Africa. Police officers also attacked two journalists covering the protest and damaged their camera.
#Senegal Des jeunes d'Amnesty International réunis à Nairobi au Kenya demandent aux autorités sénégalaises de libérer le président de l'ASRED Ibrahima Sall en garde à vue depuis le 1er mai pour son travail en faveur des droits des détenus #kebetu pic.twitter.com/RojmA9O0NX— Amnesty Sénégal (@AmnestySenegal) 6 mei 2018
On 1st May 2018, the Investigation section of the Gendarmerie of Colobane detained Ibrahima Sall, president of Association pour le Soutien et la Réinsertion Sociale des Détenus (ASRED - Association for the Support and Social Reintegration of Detainees) in Rufisque. Sall was accused of spreading false information on detainees in Senegalese prisons. He was released days later, according to Seneweb.com.
In the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, Senegal moved up eight places in its ranking to 50 out of 180 countries. Although instances of intimidation and harassment of media outlets are relatively rare, there have been such cases. Additionally, the 2017 Press Code failed to decriminalise press offences. The Code also is worrisome in that it "allows for the confiscation of equipment and material and even the closure of media outlets for threats to state security".
With some exceptions, civil society is free to operate and can engage on policy matters with the government.
With some exceptions, civil society is free to operate and can engage on policy matters with the government. By law, civil society organisations must register with the interior ministry. Generally, most organisations are able to register without problems although rules are tighter for associations formed by foreign nationals, which must first be authorised by the government. Associations are prohibited from engaging in ‘political activity’ unless they are political parties. There is little tolerance for LGBTI people in Senegal and, in 2015, Amnesty International documented at least 22 arrests for sexual orientation ‘crimes’. It is also difficult for LGBTI groups to register and operate.
The right to assemble peacefully in public is constitutionally guaranteed in Senegal, although during the previous political administration public gatherings by political parties were largely banned.
The right to assemble peacefully in public is constitutionally guaranteed in Senegal, although during the previous political administration public gatherings by political parties were largely banned. Even during the 2012 election period, authorities denied permission for some demonstrations on the basis of “maintaining public order”. The police also used teargas and live ammunition to disperse crowds in the run-up to the 2012 election. The situation has since improved significantly with protestors now only needing to announce their intention to gather rather than secure prior approval. Violations still occur however and, in 2015, 12 men were sentenced to 21 days in jail for taking part in an “illegal” assembly. Authorities say they are investigating the deaths of protestors at the hands of the security forces, but charges are rarely brought and there are ever very few convictions. LGBTI people find it hard to assemble in public without being harassed by state agents.
Despite strict media laws, the Senegalese media is very critical and speaks out openly against politicians. Since 2010, laws to reform the media (Code de la Presse) that would decriminalise media violations, have been blocked in Parliament.
Despite strict media laws, the Senegalese media is very critical and speaks out openly against politicians. Since 2010, laws to reform the media (Code de la Presse) that would decriminalise media violations, have been blocked in Parliament. Nevertheless, since the 2012 election, the situation has improved and the media sector today is diverse and robust. Current concerns include the increasing ownership of media houses by politicians, something which may reduce the sector’s ability to hold the state accountable. Some journalists have also been arrested for “spreading misinformation” and media houses have been vandalised. In 2015, there was a public outcry after journalists from L’Observateur, Le Quotidien and L’Enquête newspapers were detained on the same day for covering the deployment of Senegalese troops in Yemen, reporting on the money laundering trial of a celebrity and publishing an article on military appointments. Citizens can access the internet without restriction. There are concerns over how radio licences are allocated, with claims that this is not done transparently by the ministry of communications in consultation with the president’s office.